Later On

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Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

The Police Will Never Change In America. My experience in police academy.

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Using a temporary username, a person posted the following on Reddit:

Throwaway for obvious reasons. If you feel If i’m just bitter due to my dismissal please call me out on it as I need a wake up call.

Over the fall semester I was a police recruit at a Community Colleges Police Academy in a midwestern liberal city. I have always wanted to be a police officer, and I felt like I could help kickstart a change of new wave cops. I am passionate about community oriented policing, making connections with the youth in policing, and changing lives on a individual level. I knew police academy would be mentally and physically challenging, but boy oh boy does policing need to change.

Instructors taught us to view citizens as enemy combatants, and told us we needed a warrior mindset and that we were going into battle everyday. It felt like i was joining a cult. Instructors told us supporting our fellow police officers were more important than serving citizens. Instructors told us that we were joining a big bad gang of police officers and that protecting the thin blue line was sacred. Instructors told us George Floyd wasn’t a problem and was just one bad officer. I tried to push back on some of these ideas and posed to an instructor that 4 other officers watched Chauvin pin Floyd to the ground and did nothing, and perhaps they did nothing because they were trained in academy to never speak against a senior officer. I was told to “shut my fucking face, and that i had no idea what i was talking about.”

Sadly, Instructors on several occasions, and most shockingly in the first week asked every person who supported Black Lives Matter to raise their hands. I and about a third of the class did. They told us that we should seriously consider not being police officers if we supported anti-cop organizations. They told us BLM was a terrible organization and to get out if we supported them. Instructors repeatedly made anti-LGBT comments and transphobic comments.

Admittedly I was the most progressive and put a target on my back for challenging instructor viewpoints. This got me disciplined, yelled at, and made me not want to be a cop. We had very little training on de-escalation and community policing. We had no diversity or ethics training.

Despite all this I made it to the final day. I thought if I could just get through this I could get hired and make a difference in the community as a cop and not be subject to academy paramilitary crap. The police academy dismissed me on the final day because I failed a PT test that I had passed multiple times easily in the academy leading up to this day. I asked why I failed and they said my push up form was bad and they were being more strict now it was the final. I responded saying if you counted my pushups in the entrance and midterm tests than they should count now. I was dismissed on the final day of police academy and have to take a whole academy over again. I have no plan to retake the whole academy and I feel like quality police officers are dismissed because they don’t fit the instructors’ cookie-cutter image of a warrior police officer and the instructors can get rid of them with saying their form doesn’t count on a subjective sit up or push up tests. I was beyond tears and bitterly disappointed. Maybe policing is just that fucked in America.

The warrior-mindset (vs. the guardian-mindset) training is indeed prevalent, and specifically viewing every citizen as a potential hostile threat — see, for example, this article. And it is common for those who have power in a particular organizational culture will use that power to resist changes to the culture (which, they fear, will mean a reduction in their own power).

The comments to the post are worth reading — and see also this Harvard Law Review article on the problem of the warrior mindset and this article that advocates in favor of a warrior mindset.

BTW, I believe a warrior mindset is totally appropriate in soldiers in a shooting war, and totally inappropriate in an organization that is supposed to be a guardian of the public’s safety and Constitutional rights — and even the accused have rights, something many police disapprove of (because the public is the Enemy).

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2022 at 5:59 pm

The Human Toll of America’s Air Wars

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Azmat Khan reports in the NY Times on the effects of US Air Force attacks. (Link is a gift link that bypasses the paywall.) The report begins:

For Ali Fathi Zeidan and his extended family, West Mosul was in 2016 still the best of many bad options. Their longtime home in a nearby village, Wana, had been taken by ISIS, then retaken by Kurdish pesh merga forces, and — as if that were not enough — it stood just seven miles below the crumbling Mosul Dam, which engineers had long warned might soon collapse, creating a deluge that would kill everyone in its path. The family had avoided the camps for internally displaced people, where they would have faced a constant risk of separation, and found their way instead to the city, to a grimy industrial neighborhood called Yabisat. They moved into a storage facility, divided it up into separate rooms, brought in a water tank, built a kitchen and a bathroom. Though ISIS had taken Mosul, parts of the city were still relatively safe. Now it was home.

Family was everywhere. Zeidan’s daughter Ghazala was married to a man named Muhammad Ahmed Araj, who grew up in the neighborhood. Araj’s brother, Abdul Aziz Ahmed Araj, lived nearby in a small, crowded apartment. Zeidan’s other daughter moved into an apartment on the other side of Mosul with her husband and their six children, but one of them, 11-year-old Sawsan, preferred to spend her time across town in Yabisat: She was attached to her grandparents and loved playing with her cousins.

Sawsan had been staying with her grandparents for a week when the whole family sat down to dinner on March 5, 2016. All told, there were 21 people around the table. None of them knew that their Iraqi neighborhood was at that moment in the cross hairs of the American military.

Weeks before, Delta Force commandos had captured a high-ranking operative in ISIS’ burgeoning chemical-weapons program, and the information he provided interrogators led military officials to a chemical-weapons production plant in Yabisat; observers had been studying the site for weeks, by way of surveillance flights.

On March 2, military officials presented their findings for validation, as part of the Pentagon’s “deliberate targeting” process, which — as opposed to the rapid process of targeting in the heat of battle — required vetting at multiple levels and stages across the U.S.-led coalition. It had all the makings of a good strike. Unlike with so many other targets, military officials had human intelligence directly from the enemy and video surveillance that showed clear target sites.

They had also concluded that there was no civilian presence within the target compound. Though the surveillance video had captured 10 children playing near the target structure, the military officials who reviewed this footage determined the children would not be harmed by a nighttime strike because they did not live there: They were classified as “transient,” merely passing through during daylight hours.

But as investigators later documented, during the target-validation process one U.S. official disputed this conclusion: A “representative” with the United States Agency for International Development said that the children and their families most likely lived at or around the target compound. In the current environment, she argued, parents would be unlikely to let their children stray far from home. In her view, the determination that there was “no civilian presence” at the target was wrong, and authorizing the strike could lead to the deaths of these children and their parents and families. Military officials dismissed her concerns and authorized the strike.

Three days later, on the evening of March 5, Abdul Aziz heard the explosions, maybe a dozen in all. They came from the direction of his brother’s house. He wanted to see what happened, but because bombings were often accompanied by a second round of missiles, he waited. Later, when he approached the block, he saw the flames and fire consuming what was once his brother’s home. “The place was flattened,” he told me when I first met him, nearly four years later. “It was just rocks and destruction. There was fire everywhere.” They returned at dawn, with blankets to carry the dead. “We searched for our relatives,” he told me, “picking them up piece by piece and wrapping them.”

Across town, Ali Younes Muhammad Sultan, Sawsan’s father, heard the news from his brother. Everyone at the dinner had been killed: Zeidan and his wife, Nofa; Araj, Ghazala and their four children; Zeidan’s adult son Hussein, Hussein’s wife and their six children; Zeidan’s adult son Hassan, Hassan’s wife and their two children; and Sawsan, their own beloved daughter. Sultan and his wife went to the hospital where Sawsan’s remains were taken.

“If it weren’t for her clothes, I wouldn’t have even known it was her,” he later told me. “She was just pieces of meat. I recognized her only because she was wearing the purple dress that I bought for her a few days before. It’s indescribable. I can’t put it into words. My wife — she didn’t even know whether to go to her daughter, or the rest of the family first. It is just too hard to describe. We’re still in denial and disbelief. To this day, we cannot believe what happened. That day changed everything for us.”

In the immediate aftermath of the strike, Defense Department officials lauded it as an intelligence coup. But doubts quickly began to surface. A series of ISIS videos taken at the hospital and the strike site was posted online, showing the burned and bloody corpses of children. The coalition opened a civilian casualty review.

The Pentagon’s review process is one of the few, if indeed not the only, means by which the U.S. military holds itself to account with regard to civilian casualties as it executes its air wars. The coalition has conducted at least 2,866 such assessments since the air war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria began in August 2014, but little more than a dozen of the resulting reports have ever been made public until now. Instead, each month,

Continue reading. There’s much more, including photos and an audio recording of the article read aloud.

Again, this gift link should bypass the paywall — and the report has much more worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 January 2022 at 3:13 pm

Shaken by the Jan. 6 attack, Capitol workers quit jobs that once made them proud

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Paul Schwartzman and Peter Jamison have an interesting report in the Washington Post of an ominous trend in public service: justifiable fear of the public. (Link is a gift link that bypasses the paywall). Their report begins:

The House staffer quit after awakening one night and imagining a pack of Proud Boys amassing outside his apartment door. Another left after questioning whether strangers he encountered had helped plot the insurrection. A police officer resigned, still agitated by the frantic voices of co-workers she recalled hearing on her radio scanner that day.

“What’s the plan?” one had asked.

“I’ve got an officer down!” another had shouted.

A year ago, they all worked at the U.S. Capitol, a citadel of American democracy they believed was as impervious to attack as any center of Washington power. But Jan. 6, 2021, upended all that. An invading mob of Donald Trump’s followers destroyed that sense of security — not only on that day but in the long year that followed.

“There’s a dark cloud over Capitol Hill,” said Jodi Breiterman, a Capitol Police officer who submitted retirement papers in November after almost 21 years on the force, and will officially leave the agency in mid-January. “I look at officers’ faces, and they’ve changed. They’ve lost weight and they don’t know why.”

In the months since the insurrection, senators and representatives have chronicled the trauma of Jan. 6, recalling how they cowered behind seats in the House chamber and barricaded themselves in offices as Trump acolytes pounded on doors and shouted threats of violence.

Yet alongside the political leaders, there were hundreds of Capitol workers who suffered their own trauma that day. They are the supporting cast on the edges of Washington’s biggest stage: the legislative aides, police officers, custodians and cafeteria workers who keep the business of government moving and ensure that the Capitol is safe, clean and well-functioning.

In many cases, they soldiered on after the insurrection, entrenched in positions that can be high-pressure and demanding even on routine days. But for other Capitol workers, Jan. 6 became a psychic tipping point, a reason to leave jobs that had made them targets for threats and potential danger.

“The idea that you’re in a place where your life is at risk was just — on top of everything else — the clinching factor for me,” said Rich Luchette, 35, a former senior adviser to Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.). “It becomes overwhelming at some point.”

A sign of the enduring trauma, Luchette said, occurred a week or so after the insurrection, when the sounds of partying neighbors woke him up in his Navy Yard apartment. As he opened his eyes, his first thought was: “Are there Proud Boys out in the hallway?”

Luchette had considered looking for a new job before Jan. 6. By July, he had found one.

In any given year, staff turnover at the Capitol is constant, making it difficult to quantify the number of employees who quit or retired because of the insurrection. More than 100 U.S. Capitol Police officers had departed as of early December, a figure that was a sharp increase over the previous year.

On a typical day, the 290-acre Capitol complex is a veritable city unto itself, spread out over multiple blocks, with its own subway system, an array of cafeterias and a workforce approaching 30,000 people.

Jan. 6 was anything but typical, with the coronavirus having kept many employees at home. Yet, no matter where they were as the insurrection unfolded, Capitol employees could not help but feel violated as they saw rioters invade and vandalize their workplace.

Another former House staffer, a Democrat who quit months after Jan. 6, said the toll of that day grew as time passed.

“I got to the point where my mental health just took an absolute nose dive because I was still trying to process all this stuff,” said the former aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she fears retribution from Trump supporters.

Death threats continued to arrive daily by phone from constituents who were convinced that Democrats had stolen the election. “It absolutely broke me to know that people would be fine if my boss was dead, if I was dead, if my co-workers were dead,” she said. “The American people stopped believing in the institution. And if they don’t believe in it, what the hell are any of us doing working for it?” . . .

Continue reading. (Again: this is a gift link that bypasses the paywall.)

The effort to destroy the US government and bring down US democracy is serious and on-going.

Written by Leisureguy

2 January 2022 at 7:03 am

Hidden Pentagon Records Reveal Patterns of Failure in Deadly Airstrikes

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The NY Times has a lengthy article on how the US military attempted to cover up the fact that it was killing large numbers of civilians, including children in airstrikes. This is a gift link: no paywall.

This is the first part of a series. Part 2 examines the air war’s human toll.

Shortly before 3 a.m. on July 19, 2016, American Special Operations forces bombed what they believed were three ISIS “staging areas” on the outskirts of Tokhar, a riverside hamlet in northern Syria. They reported 85 fighters killed. In fact, they hit houses far from the front line, where farmers, their families and other local people sought nighttime sanctuary from bombing and gunfire. More than 120 villagers were killed.

In early 2017 in Iraq, an American war plane struck a dark-colored vehicle, believed to be a car bomb, stopped at an intersection in the Wadi Hajar neighborhood of West Mosul. Actually, the car had been bearing not a bomb but a man named Majid Mahmoud Ahmed, his wife and their two children, who were fleeing the fighting nearby. They and three other civilians were killed.

In November 2015, after observing a man dragging an “unknown heavy object” into an ISIS “defensive fighting position,” American forces struck a building in Ramadi, Iraq. A military review found that the object was actually “a person of small stature” — a child — who died in the strike.

None of these deadly failures resulted in a finding of wrongdoing.

These cases are drawn from a hidden Pentagon archive of the American air war in the Middle East since 2014.

The trove of documents — the military’s own confidential assessments of more than 1,300 reports of civilian casualties, obtained by The New York Times — lays bare how the air war has been marked by deeply flawed intelligence, rushed and often imprecise targeting, and the deaths of thousands of civilians, many of them children, a sharp contrast to the American government’s image of war waged by all-seeing drones and precision bombs.

The documents show, too, that despite the Pentagon’s highly codified system for examining civilian casualties, pledges of transparency and accountability have given way to opacity and impunity. In only a handful of cases were the assessments made public. Not a single record provided includes a finding of wrongdoing or disciplinary action. Fewer than a dozen condolence payments were made, even though many survivors were left with disabilities requiring expensive medical care. Documented efforts to identify root causes or lessons learned are rare.

The air campaign represents a fundamental transformation of warfare that took shape in the final years of the Obama administration, amid the deepening unpopularity of the forever wars that had claimed more than 6,000 American service members. The United States traded many of its boots on the ground for an arsenal of aircraft directed by controllers sitting at computers, often thousands of miles away. President Barack Obama called it “the most precise air campaign in history.”

This was the promise: America’s “extraordinary technology” would allow the military to kill the right people while taking the greatest possible care not to harm the wrong ones.

The ISIS caliphate ultimately crumbled under the weight of American bombing. For years, American air power was crucial to the beleaguered Afghan government’s survival. And as U.S. combat deaths dwindled, the faraway wars, and their civilian tolls, receded from most Americans’ sights and minds.

On occasion, stunning revelations have pierced the silence. A Times investigation found that a Kabul drone strike in August, which American officials said had destroyed a vehicle laden with bombs, had instead killed 10 members of one Afghan family. The Times recently reported that dozens of civilians had been killed in a 2019 bombing in Syria that the military had hidden from public view. That strike was ordered by a top-secret strike cell called Talon Anvil that, according to people who worked with it, frequently sidestepped procedures meant to protect civilians. Talon Anvil executed a significant portion of the air war against ISIS in Syria.

The Pentagon regularly publishes bare-bones summaries of civilian casualty incidents, and it recently ordered a new, high-level investigation of the 2019 Syria airstrike. But in the rare cases where failings are publicly acknowledged, they tend to be characterized as unfortunate, unavoidable and uncommon.

In response to questions from The Times,  . . .

Continue reading. There a lot more. And it’s a gift link = no paywall.

Later in the report:

He described minimizing the risk of harm to civilians as “a strategic necessity as well as a legal and moral imperative,” driven by the way these casualties are used “to feed the ideological hatred espoused by our enemies in the post 9/11 conflicts and supercharge the recruiting of the next generation of violent extremists.”

Yet what the hidden documents show is that civilians have become the regular collateral casualties of a way of war gone badly wrong.

To understand how this happened, The Times did what military officials admit they have not done: analyzed the casualty assessments in aggregate to discern patterns of failed intelligence, decision-making and execution. It also visited more than 100 casualty sites and interviewed scores of surviving residents and current and former American officials. In the coming days, the second part of this series will trace those journeys through the war zones of Iraq and Syria.

Taken together, the reporting offers the most sweeping, and also the most granular, portrait of how the air war was prosecuted and investigated — and of its civilian toll.

The military likes to use the word “honor.” I wonder what they think it means. I don’t think it means killing a multitude of civilians with no warning. That’s usually called “terrorism.’P

Written by Leisureguy

20 December 2021 at 5:25 pm

Liz Cheney reads texts Republicans sent to Mark Meadows

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Kevin Drum has a good post on this, and I think you should read it. Also, watch this video (also included in his post):

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2021 at 10:42 pm

The Main Driver of Inflation Is a Murderous Psychopath in Riyadh

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Ryan Grim and Ken Klippenstein report in the Intercept:

SAUDI CROWN PRINCE Mohammed bin Salman is enacting revenge on Democrats in general and President Joe Biden specifically for the party’s increasingly standoffish attitude toward the kingdom — by driving up energy prices and fueling global inflation.

Biden himself seemed to allude to this at a town hall event with CNN last month, during which he attributed high gas prices to a certain “foreign policy initiative” of his, adding, “There’s a lot of Middle Eastern folks who want to talk to me. I’m not sure I’m going to talk to them.”

Biden was making a not-so-veiled reference to his refusal to meet with the crown prince and acknowledge him as Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler due to his role in the grisly murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October of 2018. The move came after Biden vowed during a debate with President Donald Trump to make MBS, as he’s known, “a pariah” and represented a stark departure from Trump’s warm relations with the desert kingdom and the crown prince.

In 2017, Trump broke with tradition by choosing Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, for his first foreign visit and soon announced a record arms sale to the kingdom. Later, after Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post, was brutally dismembered in a Turkish consulate, Trump cast doubt on MBS’s involvement, saying, “Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.” After his own CIA director briefed Congress on MBS’s culpability, Trump reportedly boasted about his efforts to protect the crown prince, saying, “I saved his ass.” Since then, a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign, Tom Barrack, has been indicted for allegedly working as an unregistered agent of the United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia’s closest ally.

In June 2018, heading into the midterms, Trump requested that Saudi Arabia and its cartel, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, lower energy prices by increasing output, and the kingdom complied. Prices bottomed out in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, and usage sank to record lows. Prices surged once the pandemic waned and the economy reopened, and this August Biden requested that OPEC again increase output.

This time MBS refused, angry at having yet to be granted an audience with Biden and contemptuous of the U.S. pullback from the war in Yemen. As one of his first pieces of business, Biden had ordered the end of American support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s war, though caveated it by barring only the backing of “offensive operations.” Saudi Arabia nevertheless received it as a grievous blow.

Ali Shihabi, a Saudi national who is considered a voice for MBS in Washington, made that clear in October, tweeting, “Biden has the phone number of who he will have to call if he wants any favours.”

Shihabi wrote in a statement to The Intercept, “Saudi has . . .

Continue reading. I don’t think the US should simply do whatever MBS wants. MBS disagrees, of course.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2021 at 5:40 pm

No Accountability in Military Probe of Kabul Drone Strike — but Intelligence Failures Laid Bare

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Murtaza Hussein reports in The Intercept:

THE AUGUST 29 attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed Zemari Ahmadi, an innocent aid worker, and his family has become one of the most notorious drone strikes of the war on terror. It is also rapidly becoming one of the most revealing, forcing the U.S. government to disclose more about how it makes decisions about killing people in foreign countries by remote control, using aircraft high in the sky. The Kabul attack generated intense scrutiny from the moment it was launched, after journalists on the ground quickly contradicted the government narrative about who had been killed. What is now being revealed is that the evidence that can be used to carry out fatal strikes — like the one that killed Ahmadi and his family — is often razor thin.

A one-page summary of the findings of an internal investigation of the strike, led by Air Force Inspector General Lt. Gen. Sami D. Said, claimed that no violations of the laws of war had been committed and did not recommend that anyone be criminally disciplined for the killing of Ahmadi and his family. Said’s report concluded that the fatal strike was executed due to a mixture of “confirmation bias and communications breakdowns” — errors that occurred during an eight-hour period when Ahmadi was under aerial surveillance. Said did not share specific intelligence that had put Ahmadi into the sights of U.S. drones but suggested that certain actions — like picking up a laptop bag and driving a Toyota Corolla, common on the roads of Afghanistan — were enough for drone operators to justify pulling the trigger and killing him and his family in front of their home.

The U.S. military has not released its own video footage of the attack, which it insisted initially showed a successful strike that had hit a car carrying a suicide bomber. Officials also claimed at first that their footage showed secondary explosions pointing to a “substantial amount of explosive material” in the car that they had hit. These claims turned out to be false. A combination of reporting from the ground, made easier by Kabul’s status as a hub for international media and open-source intelligence work carried out by foreign reporters, established that not only were claims of major secondary explosions implausible, but the U.S. had also killed a man who was a longtime aid worker for a U.S.-based NGO, just as his children were rushing to his car to greet him.

DURING A press briefing Thursday, Said was asked about reports that U.S. forces were looking for a white Toyota Corolla, considered the most common vehicle on the roads of Afghanistan, which led them to attack Ahmadi. “We actually never ended up tracking the actual Toyota Corolla,” Said said. “It certainly wasn’t the one we did track and struck. We just didn’t pick up the Toyota Corolla that we believe we should have picked up that might have been involved in something that’s worth knowing.” Said also described the strike as “unique” in comparison to the thousands of other strikes that the U.S. has carried out, citing the context of a deadly suicide bombing at the Kabul airport that had occurred days before, in the heat of a messy U.S. withdrawal, and statements from President Joe Biden at the time that another attack was believed to be imminent.

Analysts who track these strikes say that there were aspects to the Ahmadi killing that made it different from other attacks, in which drone operators have time to carry out extended “pattern-of-life” analysis on subjects to confirm their identities.

“The backdrop of this strike was that there was intelligence gathered to suggest that ISIS was threatening the airport, there was an attack there previously, and the president himself was saying that we expect another attack to take place imminently,” said Micah Zenko, a political scientist and expert on the U.S. drone program. “It created a condition where external pressures are going to lead people to think a certain way — everyone is primed to look for another car bomb. Once you prime people like that, and you reduce the timeframe to make a judgement, it can lead to all types of mental shortcuts.”

The summary report issued by Said laid out several recommendations for avoiding future such incidents, including taking steps to reduce confirmation bias in targeting, improving situational awareness through communication, and reviewing pre-strike procedures to protect civilians. Zenko says that these recommendations have been made many times before after similar incidents. The real issues — faulty intelligence and policy decisions that lead to such killings taking place — remain unaddressed.

“They never look at the big picture,” said Zenko. “It’s never a weaponeering problem and is almost always an intelligence assessment problem that leads to these incidents. That’s what makes it so hard to assess, because it deals with the part of the process that they will never talk about: the intelligence.”

The U.S. government has been militant about protecting the drone program from scrutiny, making accurate assessments about intelligence failures hard to confirm. When information has leaked, such as the classified 2015 disclosures from the program published by The Intercept, it has shown a program that is far less discriminating and targeted than has been advertised. One leaked document showed that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2021 at 4:59 pm

In Honduras Land Battles, Paramilitaries Infiltrate Local Groups — Then Kill Their Leaders

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Jared Olson reports in The Intercept:

DANIEL GARCÍA FIRST received the text message, which showed the muzzle of an AK-47 above a blurry road, at 7:30 p.m. “You’re alive because God is great and powerful,” the sender wrote, “but I don’t think you’ll have the same luck this week. I’ll see you soon, love.”

García knew the message was serious. Rumor had it he’d been placed on a kill list of five land rights activists in Honduras. The first of the five, his friend Juan Manuel Moncada, had been assassinated just four days earlier.

At around 10 o’clock that night, the presumed messengers made good on their threat: Four or five men with balaclavas, bulletproof vests, and AK-47s rolled up on motorcycles and surrounded García’s property, where they proceeded to chat and smoke cigarettes while looking over the barbed wire fence into his adobe-walled house. García lay inside, paralyzed with fear.

He said they looked like soldiers. But they weren’t. They were paramilitaries who, in a resurgent campaign of violence and aggression that began this summer, have been targeting a land rights cooperative trying to protect land it retook from a corporate palm oil giant.

“When you see a soldier show up in front of your house,” García said of the July encounter, “you realize they aren’t a soldier, they’re there to murder you.”

Honduras’s Hot Zone

García lives in the community of Panamá, in the Bajo Aguán Valley, a “hot zone” notorious as one of the country’s most militarized regions. Land conflicts in the Aguán date back to the early 1990s, when Dinant, a Central American transnational and consumer goods corporation specializing in African palm oil production, began buying off collective farmlands, ultimately obtaining a majority of farmlands in the region. The purchases were carried out in an environment of killings, disappearances, and death threats against campesino or rural leaders and were contested by human rights workers, journalists, and the farmers themselves.

After a 2009 U.S.-backed military coup, many campesinos reoccupied the farms — spurring a campaign of largely targeted assassinations by private security guards and Honduran security forces that left over 150 farmers dead. In 2014, international pressure momentarily put the brakes on the killing spree by disparate armed actors, opening a new era of conflict in which well-organized paramilitary groups became the main drivers of violence. Leading the two largest groups were a former soldier and a private guard who previously provided security for Dinant, with other former soldiers, police officers, and private security guards among their ranks.

The paramilitaries’ strategy begins with infiltrating social movements, killing off key members, and then installing armed groups inside communities to terrorize their residents into exile or silence, according to eyewitness testimony, interviews with more than a dozen local residents, and affidavits made on behalf of asylum-seekers in the U.S. If successful, the armed groups will extinguish land rights movements and seize back control of the palm oil lands Dinant claims as its own.

Residents of the Aguán valley say the military is complicit in the paramilitary violence. Some residents claim that the military has armed the paramilitaries, while others argue that the military, given its omnipresence in the region, is at minimum aware of the paramilitary units and has done little to stop their violence.

Those suspicions were inflamed after photos began circulating on social media of a paramilitary leader at an event with Honduran soldiers in the Aguán this spring: “The context of the photos is what we’ve been submitting complaints [to the authorities] about already,” said Hipólito Rivas, a local activist who’s faced death threats from the armed group, “that as the head of the paramilitary group, we confirmed that he has support from the Army.”

Honduran special forces had already been entangled with a paramilitary group that infiltrated a farmer organization in the village of La Confianza in the mid-2010s, according to an affidavit from a human rights worker that two Hondurans submitted as part of their applications for asylum in the U.S. The affidavit details how a former special forces officer, Celio Rodríguez, joined land rights movements, including MUCA (“Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán,” per its Spanish acronym), and then rose to a leadership position under the pretense he’d protect communities from violence. But he turned out to be organizing a paramilitary death squad. The members of Grupo de Celio, as it is known, were frequently seen in contact with an active-duty special forces commander named German Alfaro, who was the head of the Xatruch, an elite military police task force, and then later FUSINA, another special forces unit active in the Aguán, according to the affidavit. Grupo de Celio was also seen doing military training on a palm plantation with soldiers and a well-known assassin named Osvin Caballero, now in prison on account of several high-profile murders. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2021 at 4:49 pm

U.S. Absolves Drone Killers and Persecutes Whistleblowers

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The true crime is to expose a crime, at least in an authoritarian organization. Jeremy Scahill reports in The Intercept:

AFTER THE TERRORIST attack on the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, that killed more than 170 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. soldiers, President Joe Biden issued a warning to fighters from the Islamic State. “We will hunt you down and make you pay,” he said on August 26. Three days later, Biden authorized a drone strike that the U.S. claimed took out a dangerous cell of ISIS fighters intent on staging another attack on the Kabul airport. 

Biden held up this strike, and another one a day earlier, as evidence of his commitment to take the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan even as he declared an end to the 20-year war there. “We struck ISIS-K remotely, days after they murdered 13 of our service members and dozens of innocent Afghans,” he said in a White House speech. “And to ISIS-K: We are not done with you yet.”

But the Kabul strike, which targeted a white Toyota Corolla, did not kill any members of ISIS. The victims were 10 civilians, seven of them children. The driver of the car, Zemari Ahmadi, was a respected employee of a U.S. aid organization. Following a New York Times investigation that fully exposed the lie of the U.S. version of events, the Pentagon and the White House admitted that they had killed innocent civilians, calling it “a horrible tragedy of war.”

This week, the Pentagon released a summary of its classified review into the attack, which it originally hailed as a “righteous strike” that had thwarted an imminent terror plot. The results were predictable. The report recommended that no personnel be held responsible for the murder of 10 civilians; there was no “criminal negligence,” as the report put it. The fact that the U.S. military spent eight hours surveilling the “targets,” that a child could be seen in its own footage minutes before the strike — this was written off as a fog-of-war moment. The operators conducting the strike “had a genuine belief that there was an imminent threat to U.S. forces,” asserted the Air Force’s inspector general, Lt. Gen. Sami D. Said.

They committed a mistake, he said, not a crime.

The U.S. has promised to pay restitution to the survivors of the drone strike. This is part of a long-standing U.S. tradition to treat its widespread killings of civilians in the so-called war on terror as innocent mistakes made in pursuit of peace and security. The general who conducted the review says he has made recommendations on how to tinker with targeted killing operations to reduce the likelihood of other honest mistakes (as the Pentagon regards them) that wipe out entire families.

NONE OF THIS is new. It is a cycle that got into high gear under President Barack Obama (when Biden was vice president), continued during the Donald Trump presidency, and is not relenting in the Biden era.

As the Pentagon absolves itself of this crime, the Biden administration is pushing ahead with its persecution of whistleblowers who exposed this system of killing innocents. Daniel Hale, a military veteran who pleaded guilty to disclosing classified documents that exposed lethal weaknesses in the drone program, is serving four years in prison. (Prosecutors said those documents formed the basis for The Drone Papers, a series of investigative articles published by The Intercept.) Among other revelations, Hale’s documents exposed how as many as nine out of 10 victims of U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan were not the intended targets. In Biden’s recent drone strike, 10 of 10 were innocent civilians.

While Hale was indicted under the Espionage Act during Trump’s tenure, Biden’s Justice Department has gone after him with a vengeance. In October, Hale was inexplicably transferred to a “Communications Management Unit” at the U.S. Penitentiary at Marion in southern Illinois. CMUs are used to severely limit a prisoner’s ability to communicate with the outside world, subject them to extreme periods of isolation, and allow for intensified surveillance of their communications and visits. CMUs are regularly labeled as “terrorist units.”

And as the Pentagon’s mountain of lies about . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2021 at 4:37 pm

The Right-wing threat to (and dislike of) education in the US

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Jennifer Jenkins, elected to the Brevard County School Board in Florida in August 2020, continues to serve her community in child development and as a speech language pathologist. She writes in the Washington Post:

My 5-year-old daughter was on a play date last month when an investigator from the Florida Department of Children and Families sat at my kitchen table to question me about how I disciplined her, then accompanied me to the play date to check for nonexistent burn marks beneath her clothes. Someone had falsely reported that I abused my child. The report was quickly dismissed, but this was the low point in the short time I have been a Brevard County School Board member.

I’m a speech-language pathologist in the Brevard public school system, where my husband is a teacher. I ran for the school board last year because I was concerned about issues such as teacher pay, student equity and, oh yeah, the coronavirus. As a progressive in a red county, I expected to be a target of conservatives; I did not expect to be called a Nazi and a pedophile and to be subjected to months of threats, harassment and intimidation. But school board meetings in Florida and across the country, including in Virginia, Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Tennessee, have increasingly erupted over politicized issues such as masks, bathrooms and critical race theory — and the chaos, now with menacing if not outright violent overtones, has spilled out of the meetings and into the private lives of public servants.

In Brevard, the protests began with Moms for Liberty, a purported grass-roots organization founded after my election by the incumbent I had unseated. Supplied with matching blue T-shirts, pocket copies of the Constitution and a hazy notion of critical race theory — which is not taught in the public schools — its members began showing up at school board meetings. Their first battle, in March, was over bathrooms. Moms for Liberty had zeroed in on the county’s LGBTQ guidelines for administrators, a document outlining the rights of students as delineated in state and federal laws, including the right to dress and use bathrooms according to the gender they identify with. The group carried the torch for fears that their daughters would be exposed to sexual harassment and abuse by their male peers. A disinformation campaign spread through social media, leading the public to believe that this document was newly developed (it wasn’t) and being kept secret. Protesters became regulars outside school board meetings. Trump flags waved in the parking lot. Young children, accompanied by their parents, shouted into megaphones, “Don’t touch me, pedophiles!” LGBTQ students tried to speak while adults chanted “Shame!” Meetings were packed, and those who couldn’t get in banged on the windows and doors.

By April, protesters had begun to gather not just at board meetings but also in front of my house. A group of about 15 shouted “Pedophiles!” as my neighbors walked their dogs, pushing their infants in strollers. “We’re coming for you,” they yelled, mistaking friends standing on my porch for me and my husband. “We’re coming at you like a freight train! We are going to make you beg for mercy. If you thought January 6 was bad, wait until you see what we have for you!”

In July, the battle shifted to mandated masks for students. Brevard is one of 11 Florida school districts to institute mask mandates in defiance of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s executive order banning them. State Rep. Randy Fine, an anti-mask crusader, posted my cellphone number on his Facebook page and urged residents to call me. When my voice mailbox filled, he encouraged text messages. During televised board meetings, I still receive texts commenting on what I am saying and wearing.

After DeSantis removed me from the audience of a news conference promoting monoclonal antibody treatments and addressing concerns about mask mandates at the county Department of Health last month, more protesters arrived at my home. They claimed to have been sent by Fine, who had been standing beside the governor at the news conference. “Be careful, your mommy hurts little kids!” one shouted at my daughter. “You’re going to jail!” they chanted. As I read my daughter a bedtime story inside, they walked outside her bedroom window toward their parked cars. I went out to ensure that they were leaving. One coughed in my face while another shouted, “Give her covid!” A third swung a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag near my face. My neighbors told me they had seen protesters brandishing weapons in the church parking lot behind my house.

The next day, a large “FU” was burned into my lawn with weed killer. The bushes in front of my house were hacked down. That was the day the Department of Children and Families investigator showed up.

I have received hundreds of vile emails and voice mails. A suspicious car follows mine around town. All because I won a school board seat. An outed Democrat — school board races are nonpartisan — in a district that voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden by 17 points. My opponent and I stood on opposite sides of the mask issue; I defeated the Republican incumbent by almost 10 points. From the beginning of my term to this day, I am the only board member of five who has received these threats and harassment over issues for which there is majority board support. The young, female, outspoken Democrat.

Recently, a woman passed me in the lobby of the school board offices and yelled, “There’s the wicked witch!” Outside the building, as I was entering, the more restrained protesters had held posters labeling me a dictator and a Nazi. The vocal ones threatened me with jail — again. And now there was a king-size bedsheet affixed to two poles; it was printed with a blood-red hashtag demanding my recall. Sheriff’s deputies stood ready to escort me to the front doors.

Continue reading. This is representative of conservative politics today. It’s despicable — and dangerous. I wish I could say it was unAmerican but I believe today it is evidently American — just ask those doing it.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2021 at 6:04 pm

Kyle Rittenhouse and the New Era of Political Violence

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Charles Homans has a lengthy article in the NY Times on how physical violence is now accepted by some as proper political engagement. (Link is a gift article: no paywall. At the link, you can listen to an audio of the article. The article begins:

Practically all of it happened on camera — many cameras, on phones held aloft like candles through the tear gas and firework smoke, feeding fragments of footage and livestreams to the many platforms.

It began with the video of a white police officer shooting a Black man named Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., a small lakefront manufacturing city, on Aug. 23, 2020. Over the following nights, Kenoshans found themselves inside a compressed version of the national experience since the killing of George Floyd three months earlier. A demonstration at the site of the shooting grew larger and angrier and gave way to smashed police cruisers; an officer was knocked unconscious with a brick. Within hours, officers in riot gear were firing rubber bullets and pepper balls beneath a pall of smoke from torched municipal trucks, and black-masked arsonists were setting fire to public buildings.

The next day, the mayor attempted a news conference but was forced to retreat inside the public-safety building ahead of a furious crowd that broke the glass of the building’s front doors. That night, police officers defending the county courthouse used a sound cannon and tear gas on demonstrators. Several streets’ worth of businesses and a parole office went up in flames. A man in his 70s trying to defend the Danish Brotherhood Lodge and a store next door sprayed rioters in their faces with a fire extinguisher until a man hit him with a concrete-filled plastic bottle, breaking his jaw.

The footage ran in fiery loops on Fox News and Newsmax. It fueled rumors and conspiracy theories, outraged monologues on talk radio and conversations within the White House, which themselves spilled back onto Fox News. It ricocheted around the online platforms themselves, among people who, by the third day, Aug. 25, were convinced they had to do something — who, when reaching for an explanation of what they had done after the fact, would often reach for a video. When I asked one local man what possessed him to leave his home armed with a rifle and intent on defending a pizza place across town, whose owner he did not know, he directed me to the footage of the beating outside the Danish Brotherhood Lodge. “This,” he wrote to me in a Facebook message, “was what triggered us citizens that day!”

They called themselves citizens or patriots, and the demonstrators and media often called them militias, but it would have been most accurate to call them paramilitaries: young-to-middle-aged white men, mostly, armed with assault-style rifles and often clad in tactical gear, who appeared in town that evening arrayed purposefully around gas stations and used-car lots. Their numbers, based on video footage and firsthand accounts, may have run anywhere from the high dozens to the low hundreds, but no official estimates were made. Law-enforcement officers seemed to have broadly tolerated, and occasionally openly expressed support for, their activities, despite the fact that many of them were violating the same emergency curfew order under which dozens of demonstrators were arrested.

One of the most extensive records of their appearance was made by Kristan T. Harris, the Milwaukee-based host of a streamed talk show called “The Rundown Live” (“covering news and conspiracy that your local news won’t”), a sort of junior cousin of Alex Jones’s conspiracist Infowars media empire. Harris was also a prolific livestreamer, a frequent presence at protests and other happenings in the Upper Midwest. An advocate for armed citizens’ groups (though not actually a gun owner himself), Harris had been at plenty of assemblies where military-style hardware was ostentatiously carried. “It’s a penis-measuring contest — let’s call it what it is,” he told me. But it was immediately clear to him, in Kenosha, that something had shifted: “When people say, ‘Hey, take your positions, they’re coming our way’ — that, to me, sounds like war.”

A handful of figures, rifles in hand, were visible in silhouette on the roof of a car dealership. “We’ve got militia on the roof here, and it’s pretty neat,” Harris told his viewers. “They’re here to protect the local neighborhood and buildings, they said.” Out front, two young men stood sentry with rifles in front of a silver sedan. “Get my good angle,” one of them said, leaning nonchalantly against the driver’s side door. He smiled. “I’m Kyle, by the way.”

Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, who lived just across the state line in Illinois, arrived in Kenosha the night before. The next day, he joined several other young men in the defense of the dealership where Harris encountered him. Less than two hours later, he would shoot three men, killing two and wounding the third, and transforming himself, in an instant, into a Rorschach test. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

26 October 2021 at 4:51 pm

A Brief History of Guns in the U.S.

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Cathy Shufro writes for Johns Hopkins School of Public Health:

et’s start with a few facts about firearms in the U.S.: Americans own 393 million guns, the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey reports.

Firearms can be found in 44% of U.S. households, according to a 2020 Gallup survey.

And, tragically: Almost half of Americans know someone who has been shot, a 2017 Pew Research Center report noted.

How did we get here? Marketing, politics, racism, fear, and other forces have contributed to America’s exceptional proliferation of guns.

Soon after the end of the Civil War, gunmakers with surpluses sought peacetime customers. They convinced dry goods stores to sell handguns alongside flour and sugar; they ran classified ads in newspapers; and they told parents that a rifle would help “real boys” to develop “sturdy manliness.” Private gun ownership dramatically expanded.

The end of slavery catalyzed the formation of armed groups, some seeking to protect newly freed Black men, others to terrorize them. After Reconstruction failed, supremacist military groups like the White League in Louisiana used guns to threaten and sometimes murder Black men attempting to vote.

While the popular imagination holds that gunslingers sauntered down the dusty streets of Western towns, that’s largely a myth, according to UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, JD. “Frontier towns—places like Tombstone, Deadwood, and Dodge—actually had the most restrictive gun control laws in the nation,” Winkler wrote in the Huffington PostWhen visitors arrived in Dodge City, Kansas, they encountered a billboard announcing, “The Carrying of Firearms Strictly Prohibited.”

Indeed, by the early 1900s, 43 states limited or banned firearms in public places. Gun control would become sharply divisive only with the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, made law after the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. The legislation limited interstate sales of firearms but did too little to satisfy gun control advocates including President Lyndon Johnson.

By the late 1990s, fear became a potent selling point as cultural attitudes changed. In a 1999 poll, most gun owners said they kept guns for hunting and target shooting; only 26% cited protection as paramount. By 2015, however, 63% cited self-defense as a primary motivation for gun ownership, according to a 2015 National Firearms Survey. In reality, having access to a gun triples a person’s risk of suicide and nearly doubles the risk of being a homicide victim, according to a 2014 Annals of Internal Medicine meta-analysis. For a woman living with an abusive partner, the risk of being murdered increases fivefold if the partner has a gun, according to an American Journal of Public Health study led by Jacquelyn Campbell, PhD, MSN, a faculty member of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy at the Bloomberg School.

As gun owners increasingly emphasized self-defense in recent decades, restrictions on carrying concealed firearms evaporated. Whereas in 1990 concealed carry in public spaces was illegal in 16 states (including Texas), by 2013 all 50 states and Washington, D.C., allowed some civilians to carry hidden guns.

At the same time, gunmakers have redesigned their wares. “Technology has focused on making smaller and smaller handguns, with more lethality, and with almost no attention to safety,” says Josh Horwitz, JD, who directs the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. For example, the popular $450 Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 2.0 pistol is 6 inches long and carries 15 9mm cartridges. And children now have their own firearms, like the 2½-pound, .22-caliber Crickett (“my first rifle”). Its gunstock comes in pink, camo, and “amendment”—Second Amendment text overlaid on American flags.

Horwitz says lobbyists and owners of military-style weapons increasingly embrace “the insurrectionist idea.” Since 2009, he has warned of armed citizens who claim that “threatening violence against government officials is within normal bounds of political discourse.” [!! – LG]

The multiplication of “stand-your-ground” laws marked another shift in American attitudes, with Florida taking the lead in 2005. Today, 34 states give gun owners the right to use deadly force outside of the home with no duty to retreat or use other means to protect themselves. The laws “make it much easier for a person to legally kill someone,” writes University of Texas sociologist Harel Shapira, PhD, who credits the laws with “the militarization of everyday life.”

“In almost any aspect of public health, culture and policy are reinforcing and reflecting each other,” says Daniel Webster, ScD ’91, MPH, director of the Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy. “You gradually see carrying a gun around as normative.” Forty years ago, if someone brought a gun to a party, Webster says, “you would have been shocked. It would have been incredibly abnormal.” Now, gun ownership is a lifestyle choice, one rooted in the individualism “baked into our culture and our laws.”

In recent decades, the . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

26 October 2021 at 10:59 am

A very brief summary of Donald Trump’s attempted coup d’etat

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Though we still have more to learn (as evidenced by the revelations in an article in Rolling Stone, the overall structure of the coup is now clear. Kevin Drum lays it out:

Based on what we know now, it’s worth a very brief recap of the events following the 2020 presidential election:

  1. Between November 3 and January 6, every organ of the Republican Party was dedicated to the proposition that Democrats had stolen the presidential election.
  2. The president of the United States—Donald J. Trump—was the foremost champion of this conspiracy theory. His supporters filed dozens of court cases claiming fraud, losing every one of them.
  3. Trump then turned to Attorney General William Barr to support his claims of election fraud, but Barr refused.
  4. As he became ever more frantic, Trump consulted with an eminent lawyer who presented him with a plan to overturn the Electoral College results. Practically speaking, the plan boiled down to “The vice president has the ultimate authority to accept or throw out whatever results he wants.”
  5. Trump pressed vice president Mike Pence to accept this. Pence called around desperately trying to convince himself that he had this authority.
  6. A war room at the Willard hotel, filled with Trump’s closest advisors, was set up to put intense pressure on Pence to play ball. On January 5 Trump issued a statement that he and Pence were in “total agreement” about Pence’s authority.
  7. This was a lie. In the end, Pence couldn’t quite bring himself to follow Trump’s orders.
  8. On January 6, a huge mob descended on Washington DC to protest the reading of the Electoral College results. Trump was thrilled with this.
  9. The mob broke into the Capitol in hopes of stopping Pence from declaring a winner.
  10. At the time, nearly every Republican politician denounced the insurrection.
  11. Today, nearly every Republican politician refuses to denounce the insurrection.

Robert Costa summarizes: . . .

Continue reading. Costa omitted a very important factor.

Drum’s post concludes:

Congress is now interested in finding out what really happened in the war room during the early days of January. Republicans are almost unanimously determined to make sure that it stays a secret forever. That’s where we stand today.

Written by Leisureguy

25 October 2021 at 1:11 pm

The Supreme Court has heard thousands of cases on appeal since its establishment in 1789. How many times has it conducted a criminal trial?

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The New Republic had a good Morning Quiz in its newsletter this morning. The post title asks the question. Write your answer of a small scrap of paper, fold it twice, then set it aside before reading what the newsletter says:

Answer: Just once, United States v. Shipp. In 1906, an all-white Tennessee jury convicted Ed Johnson, a Black man accused of raping a white woman, and sentenced him to death on dubious evidence and unconvincing testimony. Johnson’s lawyers asked the federal courts to intervene, arguing that his trial was unconstitutional. His petition eventually reached the Supreme Court, where Justice John Marshall Harlan replied with a telegram that said the court would hear his case. When news reached Chattanooga of Harlan’s intervention, a mob stormed the jail—allegedly with the passive or active help of Sheriff Joseph Shipp—and lynched Johnson on the Walnut Street Bridge.

The justices (and the Roosevelt administration) were furious at the mob’s defiance of the Supreme Court’s authority. They brought contempt of court charges against Shipp and several others and held a trial to determine their guilt—the only time that the court has done so in its entire history. Shipp received a 90-day jail sentence from the court and returned to Tennessee as a hero after serving it. A state judge later overturned Johnson’s conviction in 2000.

Written by Leisureguy

11 October 2021 at 10:46 am

“Not Who We Are”? This Is All America Has Ever Been.

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This article from May 2020 that Natalie Baptiste wrote in Mother Jones is worth rereading:

A couple of days after the death of a 25-year-old Black man in Georgia named Ahmaud Arbery became widely known, a Mother Jones editor suggested to a group of reporters of color that we should publish something on the shocking video that was soon to go viral. It showed two white men chasing Arbery, who was jogging down a rural road in his own neighborhood, and gunning him down.

Our responses were identical: We were all so tired.

Is there anything new to be said about the killing of young Black men who are engaged in everyday activities until they attract the attention of white people who feel threatened and decide to kill them? How many times can we decry racism and beg to be seen as fully human? But while my colleagues and I felt exhausted, well-meaning people of all races littered my social media feeds with a rallying cry that is a variation on a theme as familiar as it is fundamentally empty. It boiled down to the old trope: “This is not who we are!”

Soon my exhaustion turned to frustration: In fact, this is who we are. And yet, by treating every single senseless death, every single racial profiling incident, every attack on Black people, every example of the disproportionate vulnerability of people of color to economic and now coronavirus devastation as some aberration, America is given a kind of absolution. Our racist society is off the hook.

First, consider what happened to Ahmaud Arbery. On February 23, Arbery, an avid runner, went for a jog in Satilla Shores, a majority white town in rural Georgia. He lived just two miles away with his mother. While he was jogging, several people called 911 to report that a Black man was running down the street. Gregory McMichael and his son Travis decided that a young Black man wearing shorts and running peacefully in their neighborhood must have been a burglary suspect. They chased him down and three shots are heard in the video, with the third fired at point-blank range. His death was caught on tape.

The case is now on its third prosecutor. The first one recused herself because she previously employed Gregory McMichael, who is a former investigator in the district attorney’s office. The second recused himself because his son works in the district attorney’s office that once employed Gregory McMichael. But before his recusal, he wrote a letter saying the father and son were innocent because of Georgia’s stand-your-ground laws and other laws that allow a private citizen to attempt an arrest if an offense is committed in his presence, or if he has immediate knowledge of it.

Eventually a video of the attack went viral, sparking a national outcry and demands for justice. Politicians across the ideological spectrum tweeted out statements decrying the killing of Arbery, and, naturally, vowing to fight for justice.  . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The reason it came up today was this column by Michael Mechanic. In it, he writes:

. . . The sharing of Baptiste’s piece was occasioned by a CBS Mornings appearance in which White House press secretary Jen Psaki, confronted with images of Border Patrol agents on horseback riding down a group of Haitian migrants, declared, “This is not who we are. That’s not who the Biden-Harris administration is.”

I can’t speak for the administration, but it’s damn well who America is. We are a nation where many states today are enacting laws designed to make it harder for certain groups of people to vote, and, worse, laws that empower state officials to challenge election results they dislike. We are a nation that deploys Predator drones to Muslim nations, sometimes murdering innocent men, women, and children based on laughable intelligence—and lying about it until we are caught red-handed.

We may aspire to do right as a nation, but we cannot ever seem to agree on what that means. In the meantime, people—usually white people—tell themselves stories to avoid confronting our dreadful, racist past: Oh, but slavery ended so long ago. Listen, my grandparents came to America way later; my family wasn’t part of all that. Hey, nobody ever gave me a handout. We white Americans get uncomfortable when confronted by the idea that, regardless of whether we harbor racist intent, we have all benefitted from racism, socially and financially.

In a review of Clint Smith’s recent book about how America is dealing with its slavery legacy, I wrote about how a well-educated white acquaintance had expressed annoyance to me that Black Americans couldn’t just get over it. After the review ran, several readers tracked down my personal email to make their case for why slavery reparations were not in order. (I’d never explicitly said that they were.) Their arguments, though lengthy, had logical flaws, and lacked a full accounting of our past—which isn’t yet fully past. I didn’t have the time or the energy to engage, in part because I’m pessimistic that presenting a more comprehensive view of race in America—the sort of history some state legislatures are busy banning from school curriculums—would change these people’s minds. As James Baldwin wrote, “Someone once said to me that people in general cannot bear very much reality.”

And yet the rest are forced to live with the consequences.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2021 at 7:10 pm

Final drone strike by US in Afghanistan War kills blameless victims

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Who is the terrorist in this situation? Certainly not the victims. I think it is the US military. 

Read the whole Twitter thread at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2021 at 1:49 pm

The enormous costs and elusive benefits of the war on terror: 20 years, $6 trillion, 900,000 lives

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Dylan Matthews reports in Vox:

On the evening of September 11, 2001, hours after two hijacked airliners had destroyed the World Trade Center towers and a third had hit the Pentagon building, President George W. Bush announced that the country was embarking on a new kind of war.

“America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world, and we stand together to win the war against terrorism,” Bush announced in a televised address to the nation.

It was Bush’s first use of the term that would come to define his presidency and deeply shape those of his three successors. The global war on terror, as the effort came to be known, was one of the most expansive and far-reaching policy initiatives in modern American history, and certainly the biggest of the 2000s.

It saw the US invade and depose the governments of two nations and engage in years- or decades-long occupations of each; the initiation of a new form of warfare via drones spanning thousands of miles of territory from Pakistan to Somalia to the Philippines; the formalization of a system of detention without charge and pervasive torture of accused militants; numerous smaller raids by special forces teams around the world; and major changes to air travel and border security in the US proper.

The “war on terror” is a purposely vague term. President Barack Obama famously rejected it in a 2013 speech — favoring instead “a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists.”

But 9/11 signaled the beginning of a distinct policy regime from the one that preceded it, and a regime that exists in many forms to the present day, even with the US exit from Afghanistan.

Over the past 20 years, the costs of this new policy regime — costs in terms of lives lost, money spent, people and whole communities displaced, bodies tortured — have become clear. It behooves us, then, to try to answer a simple yet vast question: Was it worth it?

A good-faith effort to answer this question — to tally the costs and benefits on the ledger and not just resort to one’s ideological priors — is more challenging than you’d think. That’s largely because it involves quantifying the inherently unquantifiable. If, as proponents argue, the war on terror kept America safe, how do you quantify the psychological value of not being in a state of constant fear of the next attack? What about the damage of increased Islamophobia and violent targeting of Muslims (and those erroneously believed to be Muslims) stoked by the war on terror? There are dozens more unquantifiable purported costs and benefits like these.

But some things can be measured. There have been no 9/11-scale terrorist attacks in the United States in the past 20 years. Meanwhile, according to the most recent estimates from Brown University’s Costs of War Projectat least 897,000 people around the world have died in violence that can be classified as part of the war on terror; at least 38 million people have been displaced due to these wars; and the effort has cost the US at least $5.8 trillion, not including about $2 trillion more needed in health care and disability coverage for veterans in decades to come.

When you lay it all out on paper, an honest accounting of the war on terror yields a dismal conclusion: Even with an incredibly generous view of the war on terror’s benefits, the costs have vastly exceeded them. The past 20 years of war represent a colossal failure by the US government, one it has not begun to reckon with or atone for.

We are now used to the fact that the US government routinely bombs foreign countries with which it is not formally or even informally at war, in the name of killing terrorists. We are used to the fact that the National Security Agency works with companies like Facebook and Google to collect our private information en masse. We are used to the fact that 39 men are sitting in Guantanamo Bay, almost all detained indefinitely without trial.

These realities were not inevitable. They were chosen as part of a policy regime that has done vastly more harm than good.

What America and the world might have gained from the war on terror

Before going further, it’s important to define our terms. . . 

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s a harsh indictment. One of several charts in the article:

After 9/11, a rush of national unity. Then, quickly, more and new divisions.

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Dan Balz had an interesting column in the Washington Post yesterday. (The gift link I used by-passes the paywall.) The column begins:

On Monday, the leaders of Congress are to gather with colleagues at noon for a bipartisan ceremony marking the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It will be reminiscent of the gathering on the night of the attacks, when members of Congress, many holding small American flags, stood on the Capitol steps and spontaneously sang “God Bless America.” But so much has changed.

Twenty years ago, members of Congress were joined in a determined and resilient expression of national unity at an unprecedented moment in the nation’s history, a day that brought deaths and heroism but also shock, fear and confusion. Monday’s ceremony will no doubt be somber in its remembrance of what was lost that day, but it will come not as expression of a united America but simply as a momentary cessation in political wars that rage and have deepened in the years since those attacks.

In a video message to Americans released Friday, President Biden spoke of how 9/11 had united the country and said that moment represented “America at its best.” He called such unity “our greatest strength” while noting it is “all too rare.” The unity that followed the attacks didn’t last long. Americans reverted more quickly than some analysts expected to older patterns of partisanship. With time, new divisions over new issues have emerged, and they make the prospect of a united nation ever more distant.

On a day for somber tribute, the man who was president on 9/11, George W. Bush, spoke most directly of those new divisions — and threats — in a speech in Shanksville, Pa., where Flight 93 went down on the day of the attacks. Bush warned that dangers to the country now come not only across borders “but from violence that gathers from within.” It was an apparent but obvious reference to the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home,” he said. “But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.”

The question is often asked: As the United States has plunged deeper into division and discord, is there anything that could spark a change, anything big enough to become a catalyst for greater national unity? But if ­9/11 doesn’t fit that model, what does? And look what happened in the aftermath of that trauma.

For a time, the shock of the attacks did bring the country together. Bush’s approval ratings spiked to 90 percent in a rally-round-the-flag reaction that was typical when the country is faced with external threats or crises.

One notable expression of the unity at the time came from Al Gore, the former vice president who had lost the bitter 2000 election to Bush after a disputed recount in Florida and a controversial Supreme Court decision.

Speaking at a Democratic Party dinner in Iowa less than a month after the attacks, Gore called Bush “my commander in chief,” adding, “We are united behind our president, George W. Bush, behind the effort to seek justice, not revenge, to make sure this will never, ever happen again. And to make sure we have the strongest unity in America that we have ever had.” The Democratic audience rose, applauding and cheering.

Trust in government rose in those days after the attacks. Shortly after 9/11, trust in government jumped to 64 percent, up from 30 percent before the attacks, according to Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm that was closely tracking public attitudes to the attacks. By the summer of 2002, the firm found that trust had fallen back, to 39 percent.

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Five years after the attacks, then-Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), now deceased, was quoted as saying that America was “more divided and more partisan than I’ve ever seen us.” Today, after many contentious elections, political warfare over economic, cultural and social issues and a domestic attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, many Americans would say things have become worse.

As he prepared the U.S. response to the attacks by al-Qaeda in the fall of 2001, Bush made clear the United States would go it alone if necessary, assembling what was called a “coalition of the willing.” He put other nations on notice, saying the United States would hold them accountable in the campaign against the terrorists. “You’re either with us or against us in the fight,” he said.

Bush described the world in Manichaean terms: good vs. evil.

Today’s politics at home is often practiced that way. That phrase — “with us or against us” — could stand as a black-and-white expression of the way in which many Americans approach the political battles: all in with the team, red or blue, or not in at all. If you win, I lose. No middle ground.

Lack of imagination on the part of Americans had helped 9/11 to happen. No one in the upper reaches of government  . . .

Continue reading. No paywall on this one.

Written by Leisureguy

12 September 2021 at 10:35 am

How the energy industry tricked Americans into loving a dangerous appliance.

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Rebecca Leber has a long article in Mother Jones that’s well worth reading. It begins:

Early last year in the Fox Hills neighborhood of Culver City, California, a man named Wilson Truong posted an item on the Nextdoor social media platform—where users can interact with their neighbors—warning that city leaders were considering stronger building codes that would discourage the use of natural gas in new homes and businesses. In a message titled “Culver City banning gas stoves?” he wrote, “First time I heard about it I thought it was bogus, but I received a newsletter from the city about public hearings to discuss it…Will it pass???!!! I used an electric stove but it never cooked as well as a gas stove so I ended up switching back.”

Truong’s post ignited a debate. One neighbor, Chris, defended electric induction stoves. “Easy to clean,” he wrote of these glass stovetops, which use a magnetic field to heat pans. [Induction is definitely best of all. – LG] Another neighbor, Laura, expressed skepticism. “No way,” she wrote. “I am staying with gas. I hope you can too.”

Unbeknownst to both, Truong wasn’t their neighbor at all, but an account manager for Imprenta Communications Group. Among the public relations firm’s clients was Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions, a front for the nation’s largest gas utility, SoCalGas, which aims to thwart state and local initiatives restricting the use of fossil fuels in new buildings. c4bes had tasked Imprenta with exploring how platforms such as Nextdoor could be used to engineer community support for natural gas. Imprenta assured me that Truong’s post was an isolated affair, but c4bes displays it alongside two other anonymous Nextdoor comments on its website as evidence of its advocacy in action.

Microtargeting Nextdoor groups is part of the newest front in the gas industry’s war to bolster public support for its product. For decades the American public was largely sold on the notion that “natural” gas was relatively clean, and when used in the kitchen, even classy. But that was before climate change moved from distant worry to proximate danger. Burning natural gas in commercial and residential buildings accounts for more than 10 percent of US emissions, so moving toward homes and apartments powered by wind and solar electricity instead could make a real dent. Gas stoves and ovens also produce far worse indoor air pollution than most people realize; running a gas stove and oven for just an hour can produce unsafe pollutant levels throughout your house all day. These concerns have prompted moves by 42 municipalities to phase out gas in new buildings. Washington state lawmakers intend to end all use of natural gas by 2050. California has passed aggressive standards, including a plan to reduce commercial and residential emissions to 60 percent of 1990 levels by 2030. During his campaign, President Biden called for stricter standards for appliances and new construction. Were more stringent federal rules to come to pass, it could motivate builders to ditch gas hookups for good.

Gas utilities have responded to this existential threat to their livelihood by launching local anti-electrification campaigns. To ward off a municipal vote in San Luis Obispo, California, a union representing gas utility workers threatened to bus in “hundreds” of protesters during the pandemic with “no social distancing in place.” In Santa Barbara, residents have received robotexts warning that a gas ban would dramatically increase their bills. The Pacific Northwest group Partnership for Energy Progress, funded in part by Washington state’s largest gas utility, Puget Sound Energy, has spent at least $1 million opposing electrification mandates in Bellingham and Seattle, including $91,000 on bus ads showing a happy family cooking with gas next to the slogan “Reliable. Affordable. Natural Gas. Here for You.”

The industry group American Gas Association has a website dedicated to promoting cooking with gas.

The gas industry also has worked aggressively with legislatures in seven states to enact laws—at least 14 more have bills—that would prevent cities from passing cleaner building codes. This past spring, according to a HuffPost investigation, gas and construction interests managed to block cities from pushing for the stricter energy efficiency codes favored by local officials. In a potential blow to the Biden administration’s climate ambitions, two big trade groups convinced the International Code Council—the notoriously industry-friendly gatekeeper of default construction codes—to cut local officials out of the decision-making process entirely.

Beyond applying political pressure, the gas industry has identified a clever way to capture the public imagination. Surveys showed that most people had no preference for gas water heaters and furnaces over electric ones. So the gas companies found a different appliance to focus on. For decades, sleek industry campaigns have portrayed gas stoves—like granite countertops, farm sinks, and stainless-steel refrigerators—as a coveted symbol of class and sophistication, not to mention a selling point for builders and real estate agents.

The strategy has been remarkably successful in boosting sales of natural gas, but as the tides turn against fossil fuels, defending gas stoves has become a rear guard action. While stoves were once crucial to expanding the industry’s empire, now they are a last-ditch attempt to defend its shrinking borders.

Over the last hundred years, gas companies have engaged an all-out campaign to convince Americans that cooking with a gas flame is superior to using electric heat. At the same time, they’ve urged us not to think too hard—if at all—about what it means to combust a fossil fuel in our homes.

In the 1930s, the industry embraced the term “natural gas,” which gave the impression that its product was cleaner than any other fossil fuel: “The discovery of Natural Gas brought to man the greater and most efficient heating fuel which the world has ever known,” bragged one 1934 ad. “Justly is it called—nature’s perfect fuel.”

It was also during the 1930s that the industry first adopted the slogan “cooking with gas”; a gas executive saw to it that the phrase worked its way into Bob Hope bits and Disney cartoons. By the 1950s the industry was targeting housewives with star-studded commercials that featured matinee idols scheming about how to get their husbands to renovate their kitchens. In one 1964 newspaper advertisement from the Pennsylvania People’s Natural Gas Company, the star Marlene Dietrich professed, “Every recipe I give is closely related to cooking with gas. If forced, I can cook on an electric stove but it is not a happy union.” (Around the same time, General Electric waged an advertising campaign starring Ronald Reagan that depicted an all-electric house as a Jetsons-like future.) During the 1980s, the gas industry debuted a cringeworthy rap: “I cook with gas cause the cost is much less / Than ’lectricity. Do you want to take a guess?” and “I cook with gas cause broiling’s so clean / The flame consumes the smoke and grease.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including serious and fact-based arguments against using gas ranges. No paywall.

Later in the article:

Beginning in the 1990s, the industry faced a new challenge: mounting evidence that burning gas indoors can contribute to serious health problems. Gas stoves emit a host of dangerous pollutants, including particulate matter, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides. One 2014 simulation by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that cooking with gas for one hour without ventilation adds up to 3,000 parts per billion of carbon monoxide to the air—raising indoor concentrations by up to 30 percent in the average home. Carbon monoxide can kill; it binds tightly to the hemoglobin molecules in your blood so they can no longer carry oxygen. What’s more, new research shows that the typical home carbon monoxide alarms often fail to detect potentially dangerous levels of the gas. Nitrogen oxides, which are not regulated indoors, have been linked to an increased risk of heart attack, along with asthma and other respiratory diseases. Homes with gas stoves have anywhere between 50 and 400 percent higher concentrations of nitrogen dioxide than homes without, according to EPA research. Children are at especially high risk from nitrogen oxides, according to a study by UCLA Fielding School of Public Health commissioned by the Sierra Club. The paper included a meta-analysis of existing epidemiological studies, one of which estimated that kids in homes with gas stoves are 42 percent more likely to have asthma than children whose families use electric.

From my own direct experience I know that cooking on an induction burner is by far the best — I’ve cooked with gas and with electric coil burners, and induction beats them hands down.

Written by Leisureguy

12 September 2021 at 9:26 am

Biden Deserves Credit, Not Blame, for Afghanistan

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David Rothkopf writes in the Atlantic:

America’s longest war has been by any measure a costly failure, and the errors in managing the conflict deserve scrutiny in the years to come. But Joe Biden doesn’t “own” the mayhem on the ground right now. What we’re seeing is the culmination of 20 years of bad decisions by U.S. political and military leaders. If anything, Americans should feel proud of what the U.S. government and military have accomplished in these past two weeks. President Biden deserves credit, not blame.

Unlike his three immediate predecessors in the Oval Office, all of whom also came to see the futility of the Afghan operation, Biden alone had the political courage to fully end America’s involvement. Although Donald Trump made a plan to end the war, he set a departure date that fell after the end of his first term and created conditions that made the situation Biden inherited more precarious. And despite significant pressure and obstacles, Biden has overseen a military and government that have managed, since the announcement of America’s withdrawal, one of the most extraordinary logistical feats in their recent history. By the time the last American plane lifts off from Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 31, the total number of Americans and Afghan allies extricated from the country may exceed 120,000.

In the days following the fall of Kabul earlier this month—an event that triggered a period of chaos, fear, and grief—critics castigated the Biden administration for its failure to properly coordinate the departure of the last Americans and allies from the country. The White House was indeed surprised by how quickly the Taliban took control, and those early days could have been handled better. But the critics argued that more planning both would have been able to stop the Taliban victory and might have made America’s departure somehow tidier, more like a win or perhaps even a draw. The chaos, many said, was symptomatic of a bigger error. They argued that the United States should stay in Afghanistan, that the cost of remaining was worth the benefits a small force might bring.

Former military officers and intelligence operatives, as well as commentators who had long been advocates of extending America’s presence in Afghanistan, railed against Biden’s artificial deadline. Some critics were former Bush-administration officials or supporters who had gotten the U.S. into the mess in the first place, setting us on the impossible path toward nation building and, effectively, a mission without a clear exit or metric for success. Some were Obama-administration officials or supporters who had doubled down on the investment of personnel in the country and later, when the futility of the war was clear, lacked the political courage to withdraw. Some were Trump-administration officials or supporters who had negotiated with and helped strengthen the Taliban with their concessions in the peace deal and then had punted the ultimate exit from the country to the next administration.

They all conveniently forgot that they were responsible for some of America’s biggest errors in this war and instead were incandescently self-righteous in their invective against the Biden administration. Never mind the fact that the Taliban had been gaining ground since it resumed its military campaign in 2004 and, according to U.S. estimates even four years ago, controlled or contested about a third of Afghanistan. Never mind that the previous administration’s deal with the Taliban included the release of 5,000 fighters from prison and favored an even earlier departure date than the one that Biden embraced. Never mind that Trump had drawn down U.S. troop levels from about 13,000 to 2,500 during his last year in office and had failed to repatriate America’s equipment on the ground. Never mind the delay caused by Trump and his adviser Stephen Miller’s active obstruction of special visas for Afghans who helped us.

Never mind the facts. Never mind the losses. Never mind the lessons. Biden, they felt, was in the wrong.

Despite the criticism, Biden, who had argued unsuccessfully when he was Barack Obama’s vice president to seriously reduce America’s presence in Afghanistan, remained resolute. Rather than view the heartbreaking scenes in Afghanistan in a political light as his opponents did, Biden effectively said, “Politics be damned—we’re going to do what’s right” and ordered his team to stick with the deadline and find a way to make the best of the difficult situation in Kabul.

The Biden administration nimbly adapted its plans, ramping up the airlift and sending additional troops into the country to aid crisis teams and to enhance security. Around-the-clock flights came into and went out of Afghanistan. Giant cargo planes departed, a number of them packed with as many as 600 occupants. Senior administration officials convened regular meetings with U.S. allies to find destinations for those planes to land and places for the refugees to stay. The State Department tracked down Americans in the country, as well as Afghans who had worked with the U.S., to arrange their passage to the airport. The Special Immigrant Visa program that the Trump administration had slowed down was kicked into high gear. Despite years of fighting, the administration and the military spoke with the Taliban many times to coordinate passage of those seeking to depart to the airport, to mitigate risks as best as possible, to discuss their shared interest in meeting the August 31 deadline.

The process was relentless and imperfect and, as we all have seen in the most horrific way, not without huge risks for those staying behind to help. On . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 4:54 pm

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